Here are my Top 10 players on my preseason Player Rankings for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Related: Connor Bedard vs Matvei Michkov
1. Connor Bedard
Connor Bedard has been under the spotlight since he was granted exceptional status as a 14-year-old to play in the WHL for the Regina Pats. Since being drafted by Regina, Bedard has done nothing but dominate the WHL, as in his Rookie year, he scored 12 goals and 28 points in just 15 games. This season with the Regina Pats, Bedard put up 51 goals and 100 points in 62 games, and also served as the team’s alternate. With Team Canada, he put up a whopping 7 goals and 14 points in 7 games in the WJC U18s, as a 15-year-old, and even broke McDavid’s records in the U18s. Then for the 2022 U18s, was named Captain of Team Canada, leading his team to a silver medal. Connor Bedard is a Superstar in the maker, he has that it factor and has supreme confidence when he has the puck on his stick. He is a player who is capable of completely changing the fortunes of a franchise, and can make other players around him better. What stands out to me about Bedard is his shot and how quick he can get his shot off while not even breaking stride, but you also can’t overlook his playmaking ability. Like most superstars, Bedard can play at different gears and can shift to a different gear than most players just aren’t capable of. Bedard should be a lock to be the number 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, as he has all the makings of a Superstar in the league.
2. Matvei Michkov
Matvei Michkov is arguably the best Russian player to come out of Russia since Alex Ovechkin, which is saying a lot. Michkov is special, he has dominated the Russian Junior ranks in ways that are uncommon, and as a 17-year-old tore up the MHL, which is absurd. Michkov made his name known to the hockey world when he dominated the Russian U16 league, scoring 70 goals and 109 points in 26 games, with a 2.69 goals per game average , and a 4.19 Points per game average. Michkov started playing in the MHL as a 16-year-old and was still dominant, tallying 35 goals and 52 points in 50 games, as well as 3 points in 5 playoff games playing with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. In the 2021-22 season, d 22 goals and 38 points in 22 games, then 13 goals and 17 points in 17 playoff games, helping SKA-1946 St. Petersburg win the Championship. With Russian at the U18s, he was utterly dominant, and was Russia’s best player in the tournament; he scored a whopping 12 goals and 16 points in 7 games. Michkov is a superstar in the making, he always seems to be steps ahead of plays, due to his superb Hockey IQ, world-class hands, and his unreal release on his shot. Michkov is signed with SKA St. Petersburg until the 2025-26 season, but because he is a rare talent that doesn’t come around often, it would be foolish to pass over him if you have the 2nd pick in the draft.
3. Adam Fantilli
Adam Fantilli was the USHL’s leading goal-scorer as a draft-minus-one player, with his 1.39 points per game outpacing all but Jack Hughes, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel for his age group in the past 10 years. Fantilli is a big center, at 6’3, 192, and unlike Bedard and Michkov, who both rely on being dynamic, skilled players, Fantilli has an element in his game that neither of those two players have, size and strength. Despite having dynamic skill, he plays with a level of ferocity, which is uncommon for players with high level skill. Every game, he leaves behind him a path of destruction – and his desire to combine his skill and physicality only seems to increase. The Chicago Steel standout and University of Michigan commit has the potential to be the next great power forward in the league, and he rounds out the three-headed monster at the top of the 2023 draft. Had Bedard and Michkov not been prospects for this draft, Fantilli would be the clear-cut number 1 pick, but because there are just two superstar talents that are clearly at another level than him, he a safe bet for the third pick, unless something significant changes during this year.
4. Dalibor Dvorsky
Dalibor Dvorsky made his pro debut at 16 in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan league this season and has also dominated Sweden’s 20 ranks. With AIK’s J20, he would tally 20 goals, 40 points in 33 regular-season games, and 6 points in 6 playoff games. For North American fans, Dvorsky started to make waves as a standout for Slovakia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored 8 goals in the tournament, helping the team win the silver medal. His 12 points in five games put him one behind Matvei Michkov for tops in the tourney, and his eight goals equaled what Michkov produced. His biggest asset is his vision, and he sees the game before anyone else; when he plays center, he has the knack of knowing where his teammates will be before they’re three. He’s always a threat offensively, has a good shot from the half wall and can run the powerplay from the half boards. Dvorsky reminds me a lot of Nicklas Backstrom, and he projects to be a star in the making and an assist machine in the NHL.
5. Brayden Yager
Brayden Yager won the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL Rookie of the year in the 2021-22 season, setting a record for a 16-year-old player with 34 goals, good for second among Warriors skaters. The 6-foot-0, 161-pound forward led all WHL 16-year-old players in goals (34), points (59), and game-winning goals (6) while finishing with a share of the lead among his age group in power-play markers (11). Yager registered eight multi-goal games over the course of the regular season including two hat-tricks. Yager can play both center and wing, although his strengths would suggest that he is best suited for being a winger. He is a shoot-first player, with a hard and accurate shot; his wrist shot really stands out and he is able to get the shot very quickly. He knows how to play off coverage, making himself an available option for teammates.
Brayden Yager is a pure goal scorer and has the potential to be a top 6 goal-scoring forward in the NHL.
6. Zach Benson
Zach Benson is a name you should get used to hearing, as he is a star in the making. He is no stranger for scoring in big moments for the Winnipeg ICE, and even for Team Canada. In his rookie year in the WHL with the Winnipeg ICE, Benson scored 10 goals and 20 points in 24 games, which is a great start to his WHL career. The next season, in the 2021-22 season, Benson scored 25 goals and 63 points in 58 regular season games, then he took his game to another level in the playoffs, scoring 9 goals and 23 points in 15 games. His vision and speed are elite, and he has a tireless work ethic, making him a coach’s dream to have on the team. Benson may be undersized, but he has proven that he is a point scorer, and with his tireless work ethic, he should be a top 6 forward at the NHL level.
7. Calum Ritchie
Calum Ritchie has the potential to be a top 5 player given his size, ability, and awareness. He’s just got that instinct and drive that just matches anybody else on the ice. As a rookie playing for the Oshawa General in the OHL, Calum scored 19 goals and 45 points in 65 regular season games, then had 4 goals and 7 points in 6 playoff games. Ritchie already has an NHL-caliber release on his shot; the way he shoots, Ritchie feels like a baseball pitcher with how deceptive it can be at times. By that, few of his wrist shots in succession look the same in the way he uses his release. Away from the puck, he’s everything you’d expect out of a top prospect reliable in his own zone, backchecking by all costs and while he’s not physical, he can handle bodychecks without taking him out of the play. Depending on how next year plays out, Ritchie has tremendous hockey smarts and has the potential to be a star in the NHL.
8. Nate Danielson
Nate Danielson is kinda slept on by fans and experts, as he has all the makings of a top 10 pick in the draft. Danielson is a 200-foot player, that can play in all situations and is equally skilled at being a scorer and playmaker. Danielson has made a big impression both on the score sheet and with his two-way abilities and is the third best prospect amongst players from the Western Hockey League in 2023. He is over a point per game player with the Brandon Wheat Kings this season, tallying 23 goals and 57 points in 53 regular season games, as well as 3 points in 6 playoff games. Nate is a player that a coach can trust in all situations, and has already shown his leadership and his willingness to go into those tough areas. While Danielson may not high as high a ceiling as some other players in this draft, he is a very safe pick and looks to be a two-way stud in the NHL.
9. Kasper Halttunen
Kasper Halttunen is the top Finnish prospect in the 2023 draft, playing for Jokerit in Finland’s U20 SM-sarja league, where he put up 24 goals and 38 points in 41 games. For his efforts, he was awarded the U20 SM-sarja Rookie of the Year. At the U18s, Halttunen put up 3 goals and 5 points in 6 games and was named a Top 3 player on the team in Finland’s Bronze Medal finish. Kasper is a big tall right-shot winger who has strong on the puck, is strong on the boards, and has great 1-on-1 skills. He’s got good skating for his size, a heavy shot, a scorer’s touch, soft hands, and vision, which makes him a lethal goal scorer. He dominates down low and wins almost all puck battles there, and his puck pursuit is relentless. Because of his size and goal-scoring ability, he has the potential to be a lethal goal-scoring power forward in the NHL.
10. Eduard Sale
The player that not enough people are talking about is Czech star, Eduard Sale, who has torn up the Czech junior ranks. With HC Kometa Brno U20, Sale recorded 42 goals and 89 points in 39 regular season games, then tallied 5 goals and 10 points in 5 playoff games. Eduard was the best player for Czechia at the U18s, where he recorded 9 points in 6 games, and was named a top 3 player on the team in the tournament. Sale is a dynamic offensive player, with good size, and skating, and has a very complete offensive skillset. He’s a dangerous sniper who is very smart and instinctive offensively. He can pick the corners with accuracy and doesn’t need much time to convert on scoring chances. Sale has all the tools to be a star in the league, as he has excellent hockey sense and a killer instinct. Eduard Sale perhaps has flown under the radar because he plays in the Czech league, but his performance on the international stage would suggest he is just as elite as the players outside the big 3 in the draft.